Joan Crawford Collection: Volume 2
Sadie McKee (1934) – is a very good melodrama that features Joan Crawford in the title role. It was directed by Clarence Brown (A Free Soul (1931)) and based on a story by Vina Delmar that was scripted by John Meehan (The Divorcee (1930)). Sadie is the daughter of the well-to-do Alderson’s cook Mrs. McKee (Helen Ware) and, when young lawyer Michael Alderson (Franchot Tone) returns home to find out that she has grown into a beautiful woman, he’s taken aback. But Michael has recently fired Sadie’s boyfriend Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond) for suspected wrongdoing and, when he says that Tommy shouldn’t be given a second chance, Sadie has an angry outburst while serving their dinner party. When Tommy is leaving for a new start in New York, Sadie decides that she has nothing to return to and joins him. He promises that they’ll get married in the morning, but then leaves her for a better offer working for an attractive blonde singer named Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston). Abandoned in a new city with no prospects, Sadie is 'adopted' by a streetwise woman – Opal (Jean Dixon) – that works in a nightclub (where Akim Tamiroff is the headwaiter). When one of the club’s patrons gets fresh with now cigarette girl hostess Sadie, a kindly drunken multimillionaire named Jack Brennan 'rescues' her and, when she gives him a rose for his chivalry, he takes notice of her. Sadie is surprised to learn that Michael is Jack’s lawyer, and is so upset when he tries to protect his client from her – as if she’s a gold-digger – that she decides to become one. A short time after marrying Jack, Sadie learns that her husband is dying from all the alcohol that he’s been drinking; this comes right after she’d gone to see Dolly’s show to see Tommy, who’d sung his signature song "All I Do Is Dream Of You", which stirred up past emotions for both of them. But Sadie is a straight gal and, after convincing Brennan’s skeptical staff and butler Finnegan (Leo G. Carroll) that she wants to help Jack, she works to break his addiction to booze. Afterwards, however, she tells Jack that she’s still in love with Tommy, that she must find him, and he grants her an amiable divorce. But it’s Michael, feeling guilty for his prior meddling in their lives, that finds Tommy first and puts him in a sanitarium where he might recover from his persistent cough and declining heath; but of course, he doesn’t. After Jack’s deathbed scene with Sadie, she returns to New York to live in an apartment with her mother and Opal. They are visited by Michael, who celebrates his birthday with Sadie. As they blow out the candles, it appears all has been forgiven and that her mother’s wish of them being together is in their future.
Strange Cargo (1940) – strange movie! Frank Borzage and Joseph L. Mankiewicz certainly produced a different kind of prison escape drama here, which Borzage (Bad Girl (1931)) also directed. Using Richard Sale’s novel Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep, Lawrence Hazard wrote the screenplay. The cast is deep and the movie attempts to be, but while it does succeed in providing a compelling story with interesting characters, it doesn’t really deliver on its allegorical message of redemption in any credible way. Joan Crawford and Clark Gable – paired for the eighth and last time – are joined by Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas, Albert Dekker, J. Edward Bromberg, and Eduardo Ciannelli (among others). Gable plays a convict named Verne who vows that no prison can hold him, but the Devil’s Island warden (Frederick Worlock) is confident given its location: the jungle that surrounds it and the distance from the mainland. Still, that doesn’t keep Verne from trying, especially when he’s inspired to rendezvous with an attractive gal named Julie (Crawford), who works in a club that entertains the free men on the island. But Julie knows that getting caught with a prisoner would lead to her getting thrown off the island herself, so she turns Verne in when he escapes to see her. In retaliation, Verne places doubt in the warden’s mind about Julie’s complicity, and she’s expelled anyway. However, a local (Bernard Nedell) agrees to watch after her – for his own purposes never revealed – and she agrees to go with him in lieu of becoming the charge of Monsieu 'Pig' Cochon (Lorre), a squealer who’s desirous of her charms. Hunter plays a Christ-like character named Cambreau who’d, unbeknownst to Verne, voluntarily entered the prison to cover his escape. Cambreau and Hessler (Lukas), a man who’d murdered several different wives, philosophize about the Bible and related topics throughout the story. Verne learns that Moll (Dekker) is planning to lead a group escape and insists on participating in it. Moll reluctantly agrees, but later prevents Verne from joining them. Verne escapes anyway, catches up to Julie as promised and frees her. Eventually, everybody – including the weaker trio comprised of Flaubert (Bromberg), Telez (Ciannelli) and Dufond (John Arledge) – convene at the seashore where the prearranged boat awaits them. At this point, one by one, the characters die or are killed from one cause or another – each seeking redemption through God in the person of Cambreau – until only Verne, Julie, Hessler and Cambreau reach the mainland. After Hessler – who’s ostensibly the Devil – departs, the remaining drama involves Julie’s then Verne’s salvation, and an even hokier (production code enforced) ending that promises their future together. Victor Varconi plays the requisite fisherman that’s part of the plot at the end.
A Woman’s Face (1941) – is an engaging drama featuring Joan Crawford as the titled woman, Anna Holm aka Ingrid Paulson. It was directed by George Cukor, who was teamed again with screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart (and Elliot Paul) a year after they’d both received accolades for The Philadelphia Story (1940); the story came from a play by Francis de Croisset. Holm was burned as a child, the right side of her face so disfigured with an ugly scar that the world had rejected her and so she’d become a hardened unfeeling blackmailer, and the leader of several other partners in crime, characters played by Reginald Owen, Donald Meek, Connie Gilchrist and ultimately Conrad Veidt, who plays Torsten Barring. The film opens with Holm’s murder trial, and her story is told in flashback through each of these other characters in succession. Torsten, also a nefarious person, is the first man to see past Anna’s disfigurement, see and treat her as a woman; the two share some romantic moments. One night, while attempting to exact a payment from the cheating wife (Osa Massen) of a doctor, Anna is caught by the woman’s husband Dr. Gustaf Segert (Melvyn Douglas), who happens to be a plastic surgeon that can fix the scar on her face. After describing the risks that she accepts, he takes the challenge to correct her ugliness, a procedure which takes 12 operations over almost 2 years. When he is done, he is worried that he may have created a Frankenstein, a beautiful woman with no heart. He’d thought of her as the most ruthless terrifying, and cold-blooded creature he had ever had the fascination to meet. But the change in Anna’s appearance also slowly changed her character. Even though, after returning to Torsten, she’d accepted his assignment to murder the little boy, Lars-Erik Barring (Richard Nichols) that stands in the way of her lover receiving his inheritance. Changing her name to Ingrid Paulson, by Torsten’s recommendation, she becomes Lars-Erik’s governess working for the boy’s doting grandfather – Consul Magnus Barring (Albert Bassermann). However, Anna/Ingrid can’t go through with it. Coincidentally, Dr. Segert also knows the Consul and he suspects, after learning of Torsten’s involvement in her hiring, that something is amiss. But he witnesses her inability to kill the boy – the plan was to drop him into a fjord – and begins to fall in love with her; later he helps her to save the boy from Torsten, who is shot by Anna/Ingrid in the process, hence the trial. Her ‘innocence’ is proven until the Consul’s longtime ‘jealous’ housekeeper (Marjorie Main) admits that she’d taken a letter – which unbeknownst to her was Ingrid’s confession meant for the Consul – and reveals it in court. Among the other actors in the trial scenes are George Zucco as Anna’s defense attorney, Robert Warwick as an associate judge and Henry Daniell as the prosecutor.
Flamingo Road (1949) – was a book by Robert Wilder that he and his wife Sally adapted for the screen with help (additional dialogue) from Edmund H. North. The movie – directed by Michael Curtiz – stars Joan Crawford as Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer who’s been around that finds herself in Boldon, a Southern town run by its ruthless powerbroker Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet!). Titus tries to run Lane out of town when his flunky Deputy Sheriff Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott) takes an interest in her, because he’d planned to make Field, the handsome son of a former judge, the next state senator on his way to the governor’s mansion. But Lane isn’t so easily pushed around, especially since she believes that she’s finally found a place to settle down, even though Field dutifully married fellow Flamingo Road – the status address in Boldon – resident Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston) per the Sheriff’s instructions. So she finds a job at a nightclub on the other side of the tracks run by its well connected proprietor Lute Mae (Gladys George). There she meets Dan Reynolds (David Brian), who’s quite the powerbroker himself in addition to be a construction business owner. After their whirlwind courtship and marriage, the Reynolds return to Boldon by buying a house on Flamingo Road. When Field becomes a weak drunkard disgusted by his boss's tactics, Titus figures he has to eliminate his former political partners, including Dan, in order to become the next candidate for governor himself. His plans lead to Field’s suicide, Dan’s indictment, and having Lane run out of town by its residents. But Lane, supported by Titus’s only foe in Boldon – Doc Waterson (Fred Clark), the town’s newspaper editor – decides to take matters into her own hands. She goes to Lute Mae’s where she finds Titus and threatens him with a gun, promising to shoot unless he agrees to call the attorney general on Dan’s behalf. A struggle leads to Titus’s shooting himself and the story ends hopefully as Lane, with Doc by her side and about to be released from prison, reunites with Dan.
Torch Song (1953) – is an unusual romance drama with musical numbers that features Joan Crawford (in Technicolor!) in a role that couldn’t have been too hard for her to play – a difficult to work with, abrasive, headstrong star that alienates everyone around her on a personal and professional level … at least until she meets someone who reads her all too well and won’t put up with her antics. The ‘twist’ in this one is that the man who ‘sees’ her for what she is – a frightened stage musical starlet who lashes out at others because of her loneliness – is a blind man who was formerly an art critic played by Michael Wilding. Directed by Charles Walters, who received his only recognition from the Academy (a Best Director nomination) that same year for Lili (1953), it’s a story that was written by I.A.R. Wylie and adapted by John Michael Hayes and Jan Lustig. Marjorie Rambeau (Primrose Path (1940)), who plays Crawford’s devoted yet financially dependent mother received her second Best Supporting Actress nomination. Gig Young plays Jenny Stewart’s (Crawford) attractive boy toy; he drinks to salve his situation. Harry Morgan plays her long suffering stage director, and Paul Guilfoyle is Jenny’s frequently abused agent. Crawford’s singing voice was dubbed by India Adams and the most memorable musical numbers include a dance sequence "Two-Faced Woman" (with all the performers in blackface) that was originally intended for Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon (1953) and a rendition of "Tenderly". Maidie Norman plays Jenny’s assistant, the only one who seems to have a tolerable relationship with Jenny until pianist Tye Graham (Wilding) cracks her tough exterior.